Health Insights

A glimmer of hope in our worsening obesity crisis

While the nation’s excess weight sits at 189 thousand tonnes, new research observes a positive shift in 2017

Written by Rebecca Grant
Young women running race on the beach. Group of young people playing games on sandy beach on a summer day. Having fun on the beach.

New data suggests 2017 was a better year for our nation’s ever-worsening waistlines, as the percentage of overweight or obese Australians saw a subtle decline.

The data from the latest Medibank Better Health Index1 found that over the past year, the number of Australians falling into the healthy weight range has increased by 200,000 people2, as the mean BMI score declined from 27.44 in 2016 to 27.37 in 2017, and the percentage of those who are overweight or obese dipped from 63 per cent to 62 per cent.

Conducted by Roy Morgan Research, the Medibank Better Health Index is Australia’s most up-to-date and comprehensive quarterly health study. Having interviewed more than 1,000 Australians each week since 2007, the Index offers an in-depth look into the state of the nation’s health and how it’s changing.

Young Australians lead the positive shift

According to the data, young people led the past year’s positive trend, with the percentage of overweight and obese Australians dropping from 37 to 35 per cent amongst 18-24 year olds, and 57 to 54 per cent amongst 25-34 year olds. This is compared to 35-49 year olds, which saw a negligible shift, and 50-64 year olds, where the percentage of those who are overweight or obese in fact increased from 71 per cent to 73 per cent.

Australia’s obesity issue remains at crisis levels

Despite this apparent shift in the right direction, the Index confirms Australia’s mean BMI is still firmly in the overweight range, with the percentage of overweight and obese Australians having soared over the past decade, remaining significantly higher than 10 years ago3. What’s more, the latest data found overweight and obese Australians are currently carrying an extra 16.7 kilograms per person on average, with our nation’s excess weight sitting at 189 thousand tonnes.

According to Medibank Chief Medical Officer Dr Linda Swan, Australia’s obesity issue remains at crisis levels and represents one of the greatest public health challenges facing our nation. The issue contributes to a range of health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

“Although these findings suggest a potential swing in the right direction, it’s important to bear in mind that this data reflects a subtle change over a relatively short period. And while we hope to see this decline become a more pronounced trend, it’s too soon to tell whether it will represent a meaningful change in our national weight over time,” said Dr Swan.

“In the meantime, it’s important all Australians take steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle -- with regular exercise and a balanced diet -- to help keep their weight in check.”

Staying healthy as you age

Dr Swan acknowledged that it can be more challenging to stay active as we age, as juggling family, work and potential health conditions are more likely to impact our ability to regularly exercise.

“However, we also know that the incidence of certain weight-related conditions increases with age, which means it is even more important to keep your weight in check as you grow older,” she said. “The good news is that it’s never too late to implement healthy lifestyle habits, and every little bit helps.

Dr Linda Swan’s tips for managing weight

  1. Get moving: Whether you’re 25 or 65, every little bit of physical activity will help to keep your weight in check. If you feel daunted by starting an exercise regime, check out Medibank Free + Active, which includes some great entry-level activities like parkrun, which are appropriate for all ages and fitness levels.
  2. Eat a balanced diet: An obvious tip, but important nonetheless. Try to mix up your diet with a range of fresh ingredients spanning the recommended food groups, and make an effort to cut back on take-away and high sugar items such as sweets and soft drinks. If in doubt, check out the government’s recommended dietary guidelines.
  3. See your doctor: If you’re struggling with your weight, or need some advice for implementing healthy lifestyle habits, chat to your GP who will be able to recommend the best path forward for you.

For more tips and advice around maintaining a healthy lifestyle, visit Live Better or check out Medibank Free + Active.

1 1. Medibank Better Health Index is conducted by Roy Morgan Research, with data collected from January 2016 to December 2017. Sample size of 50,000 Australians per year.

2 Shifting from 6,395,000 in 2016 to 6,592,000 in 2017, representing an increase of 197,000 Australians

3 Up from 59 per cent in 2007

Written by Rebecca Grant

Rebecca Grant is a Melbourne-based content producer and writer with an interest in health. She has over 10 years’ experience working in the communications and media world.

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